Our guest blogger is Nita Gilger, educator, writer and explorer of nature and spirit. Nita and I share a piece in which she serves as the storyteller as I echo her narrative with indented and italicized commentary from the insights of liminality.
I do not own an island, but I have named one. A mystical experience warranted the naming opportunity. Government officials in Tennessee are not aware of the new name I created for a small island at one of their state parks. No signs have changed and up till now only one other person knew of the island’s new identity. Now you know. Even though the name change is nothing official, the mystery of a day spent at that island holds my soul’s attention.
Islands and our journeys to them often encapsulate the experience of liminality. The island is separate by geography, other and different, existing in contrast to both the mainland and the water that surrounds it. The wildlife is different, as are the currents, wind and sound. If we go alone it serves as one of the extreme forms of solitariness. Stripped of the normal props of civilization, we are exposed to more than the elements. Our lives, our souls, are exposed.
The experience happened some years ago when a friend and I drove to Tennessee to help my son move some things to Nashville for school and work. Our plan was to see Nashville, and have some fun. For two nights we stayed at Tim’s Ford State Park which has a gorgeous lake and fine cabins. There was an island in the middle of the lake. One morning, after a hike, we decided to rent a row boat and go over to the island. As we started out, the weather seemed as though it would be fine. However, as we got midway through our rowing expedition, the weather turned stormy. At one point, it was so cloudy, misty and foggy that we could not see the island.
The unexpected storm roars in like so many other involuntary liminal events, arriving without warning, before we can prepare ourselves. As opposed to the stability and calm waters of our familiar reality, our assumed structure of life, the chaos unsettles the plan and the scuttles the rules. We are undone by the chaos, the storm, and forced to deal with a whole new reality as we cross a critical threshold, untethered from what had once seemed secure and certain.
We were on a straight course and trusted that if we just kept rowing, we would find the shoreline. We persevered, and we did strike land safe and sound. Our plan all along was to go to the island, hike around and find a spot to meditate. We each found a tree and spent some time sitting and “being” even though it was misty and our clothes became damp.
The new way of liminal being requires traveling without seeing, without knowing. We travel in the direction of our intuitions, drawn to the places we need to go without certainty. Improvisation becomes our watchword because known coordinates and customary solutions no longer apply. With the island hidden from sight we have to dig deeper for new wisdom and new courage.
My friend and I have a long history of gathering periodically to celebrate life, read amazing books and share lively discussions. We had been talking a lot about letting go of the things in our lives that were dominated by fear. We had each made a list of our fears on small sheets of biodegradable paper. After a time, we each found a spot to dig a hole where we buried our fears. The light was ethereal. The time of surrender was freeing and healing. It was a profound moment of shared trust and support. Even the light refracted through the mist in a way that added to the sense of something very holy.
One of the gifts of liminal space is the suspension of our regular assumptions, responses, attitudes, thoughts and convictions. In the domain of uncertain freedom we are allowed to experiment, to put down and take up, to empty and refill. We may leave the old in the liminal space, a receptive space for letting go. And it is holy and holier still when shared with liminal companions.
The heavy storm went around us, but it remained very foggy and misty. As we headed back to the marina, we could only see a small outline of the building, but we rowed back. As we looked back to where we had been, it seemed very mystical. Thus, we named the island Mystic Island.
The liminal time and space, the time in-between, may provide the opportunity for the sacred to appear, to speak, to teach, to transform. It may provide rational content and new insight. But more often than not, open souls may find that liminal space is enchanted, filled with non-rational truths that seem mystical, full of mystery.
The rainy rowing to Mystic Island was, in truth, a releasing of all expectations and fears to allow space for divine possibilities. The island was still there, even though we could not see it in the fog upon our return. We kept on rowing. We found it and it found us. A message kept whispering in my ear, “Just keep rowing and have faith something is there.” The island was there and remained there whether I could perceive it or not. So I told myself, Just keep rowing. Just keep believing. It doesn’t matter if things like the weather are uncertain. There are so many things in this life that are not certain. We create so many false illusions of security.
Deep transformation in the liminal time and space is most possible when we let go, cease our attempts at control, navigate by trust and faith in spite of what is known or not known, seen or not seen.
Rowing, burying fears, and going with the flow took me to an island where fear was released and Divine Presence was found. And now my fervent prayer is always: God, please surprise me. I am ready and willing.